House expels Durham, underage drinking bill expected to pass Wednesday

Durham showed up at the special session to defend himself, but his colleagues overwhelmingly voted to expel him.

NASHVILLE - UPDATE: Wednesday marks the third, and perhaps final, day of the Tennessee General Assembly's emergency special session. 

Lawmakers made a historic vote Tuesday to expel one of their own members - Rep. Jeremy Durham, who is accused of sexually harassing at least 20 women.

Lawmakers voted 70 to 2 to kick Durham out of the legislature. 

On Wednesday, lawmakers will return to the original reason for the special session - fixing an underage drinking bill that could have cost the state $60 million in federal road funds. 

The bill correcting the violation passed has passed the first and second reading stages, and will be read for a third and final time Wednesday. It is expected to easily pass. 

State Sen. Randy McNally of Oak Ridge sponsored the original bill in the Senate. He says he'll vote yes on the change, but isn't happy with how the federal government responded to his bill.

"The bill was drafted and it went through fiscal review and passed the Senate last year," he said. "We never heard a peep out of them. They waited until it was completely passed, after we're out of session and then decide, 'Oh, well we think we can dock Tennessee $60 million.'"

Wednesday's session begins at 9:30 a.m. central time.

Update Tuesday 1:15 p.m. 

Tennessee state lawmakers voted during Tuesday's special session to expel Representative Jeremy Durham, who is accused of sexually harassing more than 20 women. 

Gov. Haslam called the special session to undo an underage drinking law that could cost the state $60 million in federal road funds, but the controversy surrounding Durham took up the majority of the session's discussions so far.

Durham addressed the legislature before Tuesday's vote and reiterated his right to due process. 

"I showed up today not knowing if I could bring an attorney...not knowing how long I had to speak," Durham said.

While he claimed House leadership messed up the process, his fellow lawmakers weren't swayed. They voted 70-2 for his expulsion.

After speaking to the legislature, Durham abruptly left the capitol before the vote. 

Previous story: Lawmakers gathered in Nashville Monday for the start of a special legislative session where one of the goals is to undo their own work on an underage drinking law in order to save $60 million in federal road funds.

Gov. Bill Haslam called the special session after it became clear that the new law put Tennessee in jeopardy of losing millions of dollars of federal highway money.

The law went into effect in July. It increased the penalties for underage drunk driving, but it also raised the maximum blood alcohol content for underage drivers .08.

Raising the maximum BAC violates the federal tolerance law, which says underage drivers cannot have a blood alcohol content above .02.

Lawmakers introduced a bill to fix this problem on Monday. The bill moves into committee on Tuesday, and is expected to pass.

If all goes as planned, lawmakers say this $60 million issue should be fixed on Wednesday.

Durham ouster vote expected Tuesday

While saving the federal road money is the main reason for the special session, lawmakers are also discussing the possible expulsion of Middle Tennessee Rep. Jeremy Durham, who is accused of sexually harassing more than 20 women.

Durham, R-Franklin, sent an eight-page letter to his colleagues on Monday defending himself and threatening to name the women who say he sexually harassed them.

On Monday, legislators announced they would vote on his expulsion Tuesday.

“If Rep. Durham isn’t willing to do the honorable thing and resign himself then we must remove him for the disorderly conduct,” said Rep. Eddie Smith, R-Knoxville.

At least 66 lawmakers must vote to expel Durham. Speaker of the House Beth Harwell has said she thinks they have that number of votes.

Related: Beth Harwell, Glen Casada say Jeremy Durham ouster effort will pass

More: Jeremy Durham ouster process overshadows DUI fix

Armstrong's retirement takes effect

Meanwhile, a familiar face around the state capitol was not there Monday for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, abruptly retired last week following his conviction of filing a false tax return in an attempt to skirt paying taxes on a tobacco tax stamp windfall.

Armstrong’s retirement became effective Monday. His name is already off the voting board and his former desk in the House chamber.

“I commend Joe. I’ve only been serving for a year, so I didn’t get to know Joe as well as some of the other guys, but that was a very honorable thing to do to step down and not put the Knox County delegation or his caucus or the members of the House through anything else,” said Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville. “He handled it the exact way that you should.”

Longtime state Rep. Bill Dunn said he hopes Armstrong’s years of good work aren’t forever overshadowed by his recent conviction. He also commended Armstrong for quietly retiring. 

(© 2016 WBIR)


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